It was whilst I was at General Synod at York University that I really began to notice my unease. There were many conversations that began with a greeting and then an enquiry as to where my parish is. Simply telling someone that I serve the parish of High Green in north Sheffield didn’t trigger any sense of recognition. But when I added that my Reader (lay preacher) and organist had been murdered on Christmas Eve, recognition came almost immediately. It was then that I truly understood that my parish had become famous for all the wrong reasons.
I still feel very uneasy when I see a picture on Alan Greaves on the television or internet news. A video clip of the front of my church doesn’t trigger warm feelings for me, but deep sadness. The church of St Saviour’s has been here since 1872, but it is only now becoming well known nationally. I sometimes wonder if it could have become nationally prominent for other reasons: a celebrity wedding, the ordination of the first woman Bishop in England, an outbreak of revival? The first would have been acceptable, the second illegal and impossible and the third almost too much to hope for. But the last thing I want my church to be famous for is a murder, especially of someone who was as generous and gracious as Alan Greaves.
At St Saviour’s we have tried to be very positive towards the media and we have built some good relationships. In my experience, mainly with the radio and television reporters, the media have been sensitive, respectful and very professional. Maureen, Alan’s widow, has wanted us to be positive to the media as she tries to make some sense out of all of the pain by talking about Alan, his life and his faith. I have tried to support her in this, knowing that she is bravely taking on every opportunity that presents itself.
I can’t help wondering what Alan would have thought of all of this. I suspect that he would have grieved for Maureen and the family, but that he would have gently rebuked me and encouraged me to believe that St Saviour’s should be famous for living out the good news of Jesus day by day through showing love, hope and affirmation to the people of our community. In many ways our Community Project was an expression of Alan and Maureen’s faith and as it continues and grows, I feel that it is becoming his legacy to the parish. This is where I find hope for the future. It would be so appropriate if in the years ahead people didn’t think of St Saviour’s as the church where the organist was murdered on Christmas Eve, but the church which puts its faith into action by supporting broken and marginalised people. I think that Alan would approve of that.